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Korostin getting head start on adjustment to life in Texas

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

He might still be a couple of years away from appearing in the NHL, but there’s no question Dallas Stars prospect Sergei Korostin, a speedy right wing from Russia, is already making quite an impact in North Texas. 

That’s because Korostin, selected by Dallas in the third round (64th overall) in last June’s NHL Entry Draft, is skating one rink over from the Stars’ practice facility at the Frisco Dr Pepper StarCenter with the NAHL’s Texas Tornado. 

After arriving in Texas early in the morning on Jan. 19 after a 20-hour flight from Russia, Korostin suited up that night for the Tornado and has impressed both on and off the ice.  In 10 games so far, he has scored four goals and 12 points, while firing 55 shots on goal and registering a +7 plus/minus rating.

“I just think he’s starting to get comfortable, he’s getting his legs underneath him, he’s playing and he’s excited, and you could just see that he’s kicked it to another notch,” Tornado coach Dwight Mullins said of Korostin.  “For a young man to travel across the world on his own at 18 years old and jump in says a lot.  He’s been a big boost to what we’re doing here. You don’t end up being drafted 64th overall in the NHL because you can’t play.  There’s a lot of pressure on him, too.  I think our biggest deal is we want to support him.  He’s here for the big picture, he wants to learn the culture and continue to play hockey and we’ll try to keep doing our part.”

Korostin, who arrived in the Metroplex with very little ability to speak English, has already progressed quite a bit in that area, too.  He basically decided he wasn’t happy with his situation in Russia and with the help of his agent, engineered his transfer to the U.S., much to the delight of the Stars, who hand-picked the Tornado as his final destination. 

“We didn’t really do much to facilitate it,” Stars co-General Manager Les Jackson said.  “He was playing with Moscow Dynamo and was up and down between the elite league team and the (second) division team, so he just felt his career was going no place this year and he had his agent contact us to see if we could do anything.  We put him in touch with Dwight Mullins from the Tornado, because that was really the only place he could play.” 

“It’s kind of a long process that really began with some discussions just a little bit before Thanksgiving,” Mullins added.  “I attended the draft with the Stars this summer and I was aware of who he was, so when we got word that potentially the Stars would try to find a way for him to come here and adapt to the culture and learn English and do that here in Dallas, we were very excited.”

Due to the various rules in place by the few elite-level junior leagues in the North America, the NAHL was really the only one Korostin could join mid-season, and with the close proximity and already-established association between the Stars and the Tornado (Mullins and Tornado assistant coach Craig Ludwig, the former Stars defenseman, have run pre-training camp skate-arounds the last two years), it was a natural fit for all involved.

“In the US Junior League, they’re only allowed two imports and a lot of teams had imports and the Canadian Hockey League, you have to be drafted into that, so the North American League was really the only option left,” Jackson explained.  “Lucky for us, we have a great relationship with Dwight and Luddy, so it worked out great for their team, it worked out good for us and it was great for the player.”

“We’re very appreciative,” Mullins said.  “We respect the reasons that he’s here, we respect the fact that the Dallas Stars trust us with getting this process started on the right foot and we’re enjoying it.”

Since his arrival in the U.S., Korostin continues to progress quickly in his English lessons, applying the same discipline and dedication that makes him so good on the ice.

“The biggest asset that Sergei has is that he’s got a very strong character and he’s not afraid to make a commitment and he’s not afraid to work,” Mullins noted.  “And all that is exemplified in the fact that he’s taken a leap of faith in coming here, but he’s accelerated in his English and he seems very happy and comfortable and he understands that it’s a journey.  He showed great patience to come here.  He realizes he’s a world-class player and he has good respect for the other guys here.”

While there was one incident in his second game where a linesman was trying to explain something to him on the ice and Korostin wasn’t getting the message, needing a teammate to intervene, Mullins remains confident that Korostin has been absorbing his instruction.

“100 percent - listen, my English has gotten worse while his has gotten better,” Mullins laughed.  “He’s got great support.  The Stars have a life coach basically for him that if we really get stuck, we can communicate through her or we can use a couple different language programs on the internet to help us get through, but a credit to him.  He’s been here a month now and his English has really taken off.”

Having the Stars set Korostin up with a life coach/interpreter is just one of the many ways that both parties benefit from him being so close to them.  Besides Dallas management having the rare ability to keep a continual eye on a highly-regarded prospect in their own backyard, the situation also allows Korostin to get a sense of how the NHL club conducts itself.

“He’s right next door to work with (Stars’ strength and conditioning coach J.J. McQueen) and the guys in the fitness and the gym,” Jackson said.  “We kind of keep him at arm’s length - that’s his team and he’s got to get on with his life there, but I think he gets a chance to watch our games here, so he gets a chance to see what the NHL’s all about.  This is a great lesson for him.”

On the ice, Korostin has displayed impressive speed, a deft passing touch and a rocket of a shot in his first month in North America.  And while he still doesn’t communicate that well with his teammates, the impact he has had on the Tornado goes beyond his extensive abilities on the ice.

“It was really an interesting thing to watch our hockey team,” Mullins said.  “They obviously knew who he was and with the internet now, you can research a kid.  They were very excited to see somebody like this actually coming to a program like this.  And to be honest with you, by adding him, it’s like we’ve added five new players.  A lot of guys have elevated their game because he’s here and this is a great lesson (for the other players).  He’s a consummate professional, I think he’s very committed, and for guys that want to pursue this game, he’s a great example right here.” 

The Stars must be pleased to hear such an assessment and consider him a very skilled prospect with a great chance to make an impact in the NHL someday.

“He’s a talented kid, he’s a real good puck player, he’s got great instincts offensively,” Jackson said of Korostin’s scouting report.  “He’s still a young guy and he’s got a lot to learn about the game and he’s got some maturity to go through physically and mentally, learn about hockey on this side, but his base is good.  And it’s really what he does with it.  We can give him the direction, we can give him some resources to work with, but it’s still him that’s got to do it.” 

Overall, the Stars feel that Korostin’s new adventure gives him a head-start on adjusting to life in North America, both on and off the ice, and will enable him to be that much further ahead in his development going into Dallas training camp next September.

“That’s pretty courageous of him to come over this time of year and do it,” Jackson said.  “I think it’s a great situation for him.  He’s over here, he’s getting established with the English lessons and the culture, so I think this is setting a great foundation for next year and where he’s going to go in his career.”

The Stars hope Korostin eventually ends up on the other side of the Frisco Dr Pepper StarCenter in their locker room and he’s taken the first step.

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